A journey into the thought and history of Steve Reich: Conversations (Hanover Square Press, 2022) on #neuguitars #blog #SteveReich
A surprising, enlightening series of conversations that shed new light on the music and career of “our greatest living composer” (New York Times)
Years go by for the pioneers of minimalism and it is equally inevitable that memories flow and that they wish to be collected and sorted. Equally inevitable, therefore, appear the autobiographies, John Adams wrote “Hallelujah Junction”, Philip Glass “Words Without Music”, both translated into Italian. Steve Reich was missing, but he seems to have taken advantage of the forced break due to Covid precisely to be able to put his memories in order, and as is his habit for his music, making it his way. As it was once said on the radio, for those who have only tuned in now, we remember that Steve Reich is a living legend in the world of contemporary classical music. As a leader of the minimalist movement in the 1960s, his works became central to the global music landscape, influencing generations of young musicians, choreographers and visual artists. An omnivorous and attentive observer, he explored non-Western music and American popular music from jazz to rock, creating groundbreaking music and video installations. He has traveled the world with his he ensemble and his compositions are performed internationally by leading orchestras and ensembles. Instead of writing the classic autobiography, Reich preferred to tell himself more indirectly by choosing to publish a series of conversations he had with some friends, nineteen to be precise, all past collaborators, fellow composers and musicians, as well as visual artists influenced by his work for reflect on his prolific career as a composer and the music that inspired and was inspired by him: David Lang, Brian Eno, Richard Serra, Michael Gordon, Michael Tilson Thomas, Russell Hartenberger, Robert Hurwitz, Stephen Sondheim, Jonny Greenwood, David Harrington
Elizabeth Lim-Dutton, David Robertson, Micaela Haslam, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Julia Wolfe, Nico Muhly, Beryl Korot, Colin Currie and Brad Lubman. Due to Covid-19, most of the conversations were conducted via Zoom in 2020 and 2021, the topics vary, but they always focus mainly on music, almost completely leaving out Reich’s private life.
For example, with Brian Eno and Jonny Greenwood, Stephen Sondheim and choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Reich explores his musical innovations in compositions such as It’s Gonna Rain, Drumming, Electric Counterpoint and Music for 18 Musicians, all featuring long and rhythmic arrangements. repetitive, deconstructions of words and instrumental motifs. Topics covered include the influence of Reich’s teachers and collaborators, Manhattan’s minimalist music scene in the 1960s and 1970s, the complexity and difficulty of rehearsal sessions, and unpredictable audience reactions. With Richard Serra, the founder of the Kronos Quartet David Harrington and composer Julia Wolfe we return to It’s Gonna Rain, Electric Counterpoint and Double Sextet, 2009 Pulitzer Prize for music.
Not all conversations reach the same highest level, the best is achieved, for me, when there is genuine dialogue between the composers, such as when Reich and Stephen Sondheim discuss similarities in their work during a 2015 moderate chat (“we share a fondness for the same harmonic structures, ”Sondheim says) or when Nico Muhly describes the ways in which Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians and a motet by William Byrd influenced his” No Uncertain Terms “. Conversations in which little is learned about the other participant’s work lack the depth of the other exchanges, but even there, however, reading the chatter is thrilling. Reich’s fans will develop a greater appreciation of his music, deepening their knowledge of his music based on tape loops and phase shifting, counterpoint and the composers who inspired him. Newcomers will discover an eclectic composer who drew from as disparate sources as electronic devices made at Bell Labs in the 1960s and the music of 12th-century French composer Pérotin to create the hypnotic Four Organs. Conversations with conductors Michael Tilson Thomas and David Robertson are particularly rich due to their enthusiasm, expansiveness and depth of technical detail, especially when Robertson talks about conducting Tehillim, Desert Music and other songs and Thomas discusses the public uprising during the performance of Four Organs at Carnegie Hall in 1973.
This book has the great advantage of representing Steve Reich perfectly aligned with his music, with his essays and with his public interviews: there is no trace of forced academicism in the words of this composer, who knows how to express himself absolutely clearly and bluntly, strictly technical moments are rare (“The whole piece keeps moving in a cycle of four different key signatures, always moving up a minor third. Notice I don’t say D to F to A-flat to B, because it may be major, or minor or modal or chromatically altered “) and the narrative is smooth and easy. Reich is a shrewd communicator and knows how to avoid logical and semantic traps, managing both to maintain a friendly and discursive tone, and to keep the reader’s attention high by resorting to anecdotes and joking facts. A rewarding journey through the career of one of the pioneers of minimalist music.